Chapter 1: What is Law?
Laws are rules made by the government that
tell people in a society how they should act. While every
society has some type of law, it can take many different forms
depending on the given society. Stable societies depend on
government officials to enforce the laws and the citizens
to obey them.
Laws and Values Laws
generally reflect people's ideas about right and wrong. However,
not everything that is immoral is illegal. Laws often change
over time as a society's values change. One goal of the law
in democratic societies is to respect the majority's wants
while protecting the rights of those who have less of a voice
in the system.
Human Rights Human
rights are the rights that belong to people simply because
they are human beings. Most countries have agreed to recognize
and respect human rights by signing the Universal Declaration
of Rights. The United Nations has developed a system of international
treaties that protects specific human rights. Many countries
also create laws aimed at protecting human rights. Our Constitution,
Bill of Rights, and other state and federal laws are all influenced
by a desire to protect human rights.
Balancing Rights with Responsibilities Americans
enjoy many individual rights, but some people argue that these
rights must be balanced with social responsibilities to foster
a sense of community.
Kinds of Laws Law
can be divided into two major categories: civil and criminal.
Criminal laws regulate public conduct. In a criminal case,
the government brings legal action against a person and imposes
a penalty. Civil laws regulate relations between private individuals
and may be enforced in a civil action by a private citizen
(or group) who feels wronged. Sometimes the same act or wrong
can be tried as both a civil and criminal case. However, criminal
cases require a higher standard of evidence for conviction
than civil cases, because the penalties are more severe.
Our Constitutional Framework The
United States Constitution is the highest law in the United
States and the longest lasting written constitution in the
world. The United States Constitution sets forth guidelines
for the organization of the government, lists the government's
powers and limits, and outlines the freedoms of United States
citizens. The Constitution also designates that the federal
government's power must be divided among three branches, each
with distinct roles and checks on the other branches' power.
In addition to federal power being shared among the three
branches, power is also divided between the federal and state
governments. Each state has its own constitution, which organizes
its government and sets out the rights of its people. These
constitutions, like the federal Constitution, are difficult
to change, but amendment processes exist and are used when